The Irrawaddy

Burma Collects Private Sector Data for GDP Estimates

The Burma government is collecting data from private companies to better estimate economic activity in the country. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — Burma will this month collect detailed data on the activities of private sector companies for the first time, in order to give more reliable figures for the output of the country’s economy, officials said.

Burma has been using the same approach to measure gross domestic product (GDP) since 1968, a time when Gen Ne Win’s regime ran a disastrous planned economy.

But the country’s economy is now under heightened international scrutiny since free market reforms and the removal of some economic sanctions have fed optimism among investors. According to International Monetary Fund estimates published in August, based on Burmese government data, GDP was US$55.3 billion for the 2012-13 fiscal year, and was expected to grow to $59.4 billion in 2013-14.

To give a more reliable picture of the economy, the government, with help from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), is about to begin collecting up surveys from all private sector business, according to Aung Myint Than, director of the Ministry of National Planning and Economic Development’s (MPED) planning department.

Aung Myint Than said the nationwide survey was the first step toward a System of National Accounts—the internationally agreed method of measuring economic activity—which will take into account the activity all businesses, of any size, registered in Burma.

He said the survey this month would address a severe lack of information on the private sector, which now accounts for 90 percent of all enterprises in Burma.

“We have to change our GDP approach from the potential approach to the expenditure approach. So, we need so a lot of data from private sector,” he said. “As the economic system changes, the role of private sector will develop more in the near future.”

A pilot survey conducted in May by the Central Statistical Committee, under MPED, took stock of the number of private sector businesses in the country. Questionnaires about economic activity were distributed to businesses and they must submit their answers to MPED between Dec. 9 and Dec. 20.

“We asked about 100,000 businesses and firms to test our questionnaire,” said Aung Myint Than. “We can approximate capital information, intermediate consumption and depreciation this way.”

Khin Khin Thu, assistant director of MPED’s branch office in Rangoon’s Southern District, said training was underway for local officials on how to collect the data.

But with such a large amount of data to be collected, the government is relying on companies to willingly provide their data.

“The willingness to give actual data is essential, so the challenges ahead for the survey we cannot estimate,” she said, adding that it would take some time to finalize the data once it is collected.

Southern Rangoon, which is the least commercial part of the city, has 500 business, while the northern, western and eastern sectors of the city have at least 8,000 enterprises each, Khin Khin Thu said.